By Mystery Girl
It’s no surprise or secret that women tend to be underrepresented, misrepresented, or given the short end of the stick in a male dominated world. And though much progress has been made up to this point, there is still much more that needs to be tackled; but that’s a story for another time. What I WILL point out is that too often, women are expected and forced to fit into these predefined categories society has set up for them, and are met with opposition and disapproval when they decide to step out of those roles.
The entertainment industry, especially, is no stranger to this concept. We’ve heard it time and time again from all angles: As a woman you’re told you have to look a certain way, act a certain way, and be a certain way to make it in the music industry. Some women change themselves to meet these standards and fit these molds put in place by society and the industry; it can be difficult to avoid when your dreams are on the line and your insecurities are being pulled at from every direction. But there are other women who, despite all the pressures and expectations, push back; women who have the courage and tenacity to reject all of it and just be themselves.
Because so many women like this inspire me, I’ve decided to put together a special Mystery’s Picks list of women in music who aren’t afraid to be different; women who do things on their own terms; women who promote self-love and acceptance; women who make a difference; women with passion, talent, confidence, and heart. So here are some of my favorite female artists big and small, new and nostalgic; all unapologetic bad asses who put out great music, make meaningful contributions to society, and march to the beat of their own drum while doing it.
Recognized for her raspy soulful vocals, Jessie Reyez is as real as they come. I first fell in love with her after hearing her single Shutter Island, with a chorus that screams “My straight jacket’s custom made though (with f#%king rubies); I’m crazy just like Galileo!” Right then I knew she was going to be dope. But when the Colombian singer released her powerful single Gatekeeper, depicting how men in the industry use their positions of power to exploit, manipulate, and sexually pressure women who want to make it, I realized there was much more depth to her and her music. Despite her own bad experience with a big time music producer, Reyez made her own path to success in the industry; and she didn’t have to exploit herself or use her body to do so. She even expresses this in her style, dressing casually and comfortably in t-shirts, big sweaters, and combat boots. And still, the songstress has a confidence and sensuality about her that’s hard to deny, proving that you don’t have to take it all off and strut around in a pair of heels to be sexy. I recently saw Reyez perform at The Meadows Music & Arts Music Festival in New York and was completely blown away not only by her powerful vocals, but her effortless charm and genuine spirit.
Another artist full of grit, Bibi Bourelly is real and raw. She’s not afraid to curse, she’s not afraid to sing her soul out, and she’s not afraid to speak her truth. Bourelly doesn’t hide behind a mask; she says what’s on her mind and sings her vulnerabilities in a way that makes broken sound beautiful. Standing front row during a small intimate show where Bourelly was opening up for Jacob Banks at Rough Trade New York, I witnessed the artist get so engulfed in her song that she literally went cross-eyed as she sang it. That’s when you know it’s real. Some of my favorite lyrics are from her song Ego where Bourelly sings “They want me to be this picture-perfect girl, in a little picture-perfect world, but I cuss when I talk and I lean when I walk, and I've been through some shit and I've gained and I've lost.” Whether she’s doing it through her songs, in person, or on social media; Bourelly has never hesitated to tell fans to be themselves and live their truths, and she leads by example in being honest with her art and herself.
This plus sized artist is all about self-love and telling the haters to take a walk. Most of her songs are anthems of women empowerment, pushing a message of self-confidence and telling boys who play games to keep it pushing. The vivacious artist isn’t afraid to show us what she’s working with either, proudly showing off her luscious curves and letting us know that women of all shapes and sizes can be sexy. If you’re ever feeling down about yourself, just bump Truth Hurts in your speakers and let Lizzo pump you back up with her first line alone: “I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that b%#@h!”
Amara La Negra
I was first exposed to the Dominican American artist when she appeared on television’s Love and Hip Hop: Miami. After an episode where a music producer suggested she change her look and ditch her Afro for a “classier” more appealing look, Amara La Negra made it a point to speak out on colorism, racism and discrimination in the entertainment industry and Afrolatino community. Despite being told by many to be silent on the topic, the artist continued to bring attention to it. She also continued to turn a deaf ear to the criticisms about her hair and looks, expressing the importance of remaining true to who you are. Amara La Negra has always been open about these challenges and more on her journey attempting to break into the American music market; and with growing success, the vibrant entertainer has proven that sticking to your guns does pay off.
If you’re not familiar with Halsey at this point, do yourself a favor and check her out. Halsey is an artist I’ve had the pleasure of discovering before she was a superstar, so it’s been exciting to watch her fly up the ranks like a shooting star and make a name for herself. While aimlessly wandering around YouTube over 3 years ago, I came across Halsey’s live performance of her song Hurricane. That hidden gem of a video now has over 3.5 million views, but I remember being so captivated by her essence that while I hoped and knew she’d be famous, a small part of me wanted her to remain my best-kept secret. Well the cat (or the Halsey I should say) is definitely out of the bag now, and everyone can get a dose of beautiful timeless music from yet another talented artist. Aside from making great music, Halsey has gone on to bring awareness to issues like bi-polar disorder and sexual abuse; both things she’s personally dealt with. I was brought to tears while watching her deliver a powerful speech in poem form titled "A Story Like Mine" at the 2017 NYC Women’s March, detailing the sexual abuse experienced by her and people close to her. Whether she’s singing a song or giving a speech, Halsey is a warrior with a voice of gold and words that move your soul as her weapon.
P!nk has been in the game since the 1990s and quickly became an artist I idolized from my teen years to current day. She’s never been afraid to stand out and during a time where poppy boy bands and Britney Spears clones were dominating the industry, P!nk went against the grain and broke the mold with her edgy rock star punk image, feisty rebellious attitude, and dynamic music. Fast forward to 2018 and P!nk still has that same resilient fiery spirit. Even better, now the mother of a 6 year-old-daughter, the iconic artist has someone to pass all that greatness onto. At the 2017 VMAs where P!nk was presented with the Video Vanguard Award, she shared a story about an experience she had with her daughter. She spoke of how her daughter was upset because she felt “ugly” and looked “like a boy”. So the artist made a PowerPoint presentation for her daughter showing her all the “androgynous rock stars and artists that live their truth, are probably made fun of everyday of their life, and carry on, wave their flag and inspire the rest of us.” P!nk ended her inspiring speech with these words for her daughter: “We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty.”
Jhene Aiko is a spiritual force. Most may have been exposed to her after the release of popular songs The Worst or Bed Peace, both singles off her debut EP Sail Out in 2013. I, on the other hand, was first exposed to Aiko after hearing a less familiar song from the EP called Comfort Inn Freestyle; not your typical catchy club or radio hit, but a beautiful self-expression of love and loss that takes on a life of it’s own. It’s obvious that Aiko has been through some real heavy life stuff; you hear it in her voice, music, and soul. And if you take a look beyond her music you learn what some of that heavy stuff is; like having a child at just 20-years-old or losing a brother to cancer, something she references in her music from time to time. Aiko is a resilient spirit to say the least and her music is centered on finding inner peace, trusting in yourself and the universe, and doing what makes your soul happy.
SZA was the first female artist and singer to be signed to Hip Hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) and I’d say they picked a damn good starting lineup. I saw SZA perform last year at New York’s Afropunk music festival and the best way I can describe her is something similar to a magical musical fairy creature. Rocking her signature big flowy hair and free-flowing attire, SZA pranced around the stage so gracefully, it left me wondering if her feet were ever really touching the ground or if she was actually just floating from one spot to the other. SZA is a goddess and the world learned why when she blessed us with her debut album Ctrl in 2017, a beautiful project where she poured out about love, betrayal, self-esteem, and everything in between. There’s no question the neo-soul, R&B artist has a unique sound and vibe all her own and she owns it like a queen.
Lauryn Hill might as well be synonymous with the word Legend, because that’s what she is. Ms. Hill has been killing the game for almost three decades now and she’s still one of the dopest there is (at least in my opinion). After much success as one third of the hip-hop group “The Fugess”, Hill went on to have a long and successful solo career. A multiple Grammy winner, she was even the first female rap artist to have a solo number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. One of my favorite Lauryn Hill lines of all time comes at the end of her verse in Zealots where she spits with attitude, “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a motherf@%ker so you ignant niggas hear me.” Legend.
Everyone knows who Rihanna is right? Well everyone accept maybe those who are legitimately living under rocks. Aside from being an insanely famous and successful singer, Rihanna has made her way into film and fashion. The artist has appeared in several movies and television shows and has her own makeup and lingerie lines where she caters to women of ALL colors and shades, shapes and sizes. But what some people may not know about the artist is her extensive work in philanthropy. In 2012, Rihanna founded the Clara Lionel Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aids impoverished communities across the globe with healthcare, education and other programs. Rihanna is also the global ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a worldwide effort to fund education in developing countries. Talented and beautiful on the inside and out, Rihanna is more than an entertainer and mogul and goes above and beyond to try and make the world better.
From social media to television, strip clubs to music award shows; Cardi B made something from nothing right in front of our eyes. The former stripper made her debut to the world as a regular on TV’s Love and Hip Hop, although she already had a solid social media following established due mainly to her raw and honest humor. She then used the show as a platform to launch her music career and after her single Bodak Yellow saw major success in 2017, there was nowhere for the rapper to go but up. Following Lauryn Hill, Cardi’s Bodak Yellow made her the second female artist to have a solo hip hop number 1 single in Billboard chart history. The best part: Cardi B hasn’t let fame change her. She’s still that same loud, outspoken, hilarious girl from the Bronx who says what’s on her mind. Who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story? Especially when Cinderella is a real one from the Bronx.
I can go on all day about all the awesome female artists I love, but I guess this piece has to end at some point. So before wrap this up, I’ll send you off with a few more artists I’ve been vibing to. Enjoy!
aka The Purple Unicorn
SAMPA THE GREAT